Category: Cupping

Close up of a 12 year old boy relaxing on an acupuncture table, getting cupping

Cupping for Kids!

A child laying comfortably on an acupuncture table getting cuppingWhen I introduce cupping to kids, they’re hooked.  They request it right away in every treatment.  Most of them even say that of all the tools I use, cupping is their favorite.

Cupping is a system that uses glass, bamboo, silicon, plastic or earthenware cups to create a suction on a person’s skin.  This is done by sucking the air out of the cup and placing it on the skin.  The skin is pulled upward into the cup to improve blood flow, open the pores and release tension in the area.  With kids, I use gentle cupping to improve stress, muscle tension, insomnia, inflammation and other symptoms.

How Does it work?

Parents often ask me how cupping works.  There are many explanations for the therapeutic mechanism behind cupping.

It starts with understanding the influence of heat in the body.

According to Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), heat is a medical symptom.  Eastern medical practitioners aim to balance the level of heat in the body.  People – kids and adults alike – can have internal heat symptoms (those that are inside their body) or external heat signs (those that are visible and present on the outside).  Feeling hot at night time is an example of an internal heat symptom.  Red, inflamed acne, eczema or other skin conditions are visible external heat signs.

When I look for heat in a patient, I am monitoring a variety of body systems for its presence.  It could influence the patient’s body temperature.  They may have skin that feels warm to the touch.  They may complain of feeling hot more frequently than others around them.  However, some kids have signs of internal heat, but do not feel warm at all.  In this case, a pattern of heat symptoms and signs affect multiple internal body systems.  When excess warmth causes or aggravates health conditions, we see multiple body responses related to heat, such as these:

  • a dark red tongue color
  • a tongue with a bright red tip and/or a yellow coat across the top.
  • irritability, anger, frustration
  • difficulty relaxing and thus difficulty sleeping
  • nightmares, night terrors, restless sleep
  • dry skin and lips that have a red coloring to them
  • constipation or dry, hard, painful bowel movements
  • dark yellow or orange urine (not affected by supplements, medications or food)
  • strong smelling stools, urine or gas
  • red and painful acne, other red rashes or skin conditions
  • sore throat
  • skin that feels warm to the touch

There are too many signs and symptoms to list all of them here, but this is a start in understanding heat’s impact on the body.  Heat is most commonly found in children because they are young and active.  It is easy for them to fall into an imbalance that involves too much heat.

While heat sounds like a simple concept, it can become a very complex problem to treat, especially when it affects multiple body systems.  One way to clear heat from the system is to open the pores and vent it from the body.  Cupping is a fun and unique way to do this.  In this way, it cools a child’s temperature.  This includes calming their “internal temperature,” to decrease frustration, anger and irritability.

Another way to vent heat from the system is to relax the body and release physical or emotional tension.  Many children – primarily teenagers but younger kids too – have tension in their neck and shoulders.  Heavy backpacks full of text books and hunched forward postures from playing on iPads or computers have created a “neck and shoulder tension epidemic” in our culture.  We’re all guilty of promoting activities that add to this epidemic – me included.

Some children who have no symptoms of physical pain or stiffness still carry mental/emotional strain that can, at times, result in physical tension.  Cupping lifts the skin, opens up the surface capillaries and promotes fresh blood flow through the area.  This action restores blood, fluid and energy flow through the body.  In doing so, improves both physical and emotional relaxation.

You can learn more about how cupping works from this great Everyday Acupuncture podcast.

Does It Hurt?

Are you kidding me?  The first person to let me know if something hurts would be a child.  If cupping was painful, children would cry and beg not to come back, but my practice is bursting with children who beg and plead for cupping.

I completely understand why I get this question so often – no one wants to subject their child to something uncomfortable.  But rest assured – cupping is painless!

When I work with kids, they get to choose how tightly I place the cups, similarly to how adults get to direct the strength and depth of a massage.  I start out very gentle and pay close attention to what feels comfortable for the child.

Teenagers may request stronger cupping if they’re dealing with acute or chronic pain, because if feels good similarly to a deep massage.  Younger children tend to stick with gentle cupping, as the taste for a stronger round of cupping develops with time.

What About Cupping Marks?

Kids do receive marks from cupping.  However, because I use gentle cupping on kids, they are usually not very dark.  They do not look like pictures of famous Olympic athletes or other adults who have received cupping.  Kids don’t have nearly the level of tension in their muscles as adults do.  The more tension a person has, the darker the cupping marks.  Also, I don’t leave cups on kids for long periods of time, because, well – let’s be honest – kids don’t lay around in one position for very long.  I let the cups rest for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and then we move on.  The longer a cup stays on one position, the darker the mark.

Here is a picture of cupping marks on a 7 year old child – you can see that they are not very dark.  These types of marks last about 3 – 7 days, depending on the child’s ability to heal.

7 year old child raising his t-shirt to show the light red circles leftover from cupping on his back.

What Does It Help With?

The first thing that I see change after a few treatments with children is their sleep.  Sometimes, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is the result of a more complex condition.  If so, it may take more than just a few balancing treatments to remedy.  Other times, all they need is a little bit of heat clearing and balancing and they tank out right around bedtime.

12 year old child receiving cupping on her upper back12 year old child receiving cupping on her right shoulder and upper back.

As mentioned earlier, teenagers (and some children) deal with constant aches and pains.  They carry around heavy bags and sit at computers for hours at a time.  They get repetitive motion injuries from being very active in sports.  They also get stiff from being very inactive while sitting all day long in school.  Neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, back pain, hip pain, even abdominal pain have responded favorably to cupping in the past.

Stress responds favorably to cupping as well.  Environmental influence, dietary response, home or school interactions and political tension all contribute to an increase in mental/emotional stressors for our kids.

Children and teenagers have the opportunity to learn stress coping methods and to form a resilient mental/emotional landscape from a young age.  They can create lifelong habits to decrease their stress by trying treatments like cupping early.

In addition to sleep challenges, pain and stress, cupping is also used in treatment for anything involving heat and the list is extensive.  Here are some of the conditions that may benefit from cupping:

  • ADHD/Attention Issues
  • Asthma
  • Acute Ear Infections
  • Bed-wetting
  • Common Cold or Flu
  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Developmental Disorders
  • Digestive Issues (chronic constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.)
  • Chronic Ear Issues
  • Eczema or Rashes
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines/Headaches
  • Chronic Sinusitis
  • Teething
  • Chronic Urinary Problems

And more…

Kids truly enjoy pediatric appointments at Light & Dark Acupuncture because the tools used are new, interesting and adventurous.  Cupping, which is typically included in each pediatric session, is no exception to the rule.  Not only is cupping okay to do on children, it is painless and effective and they absolutely love it.

To learn about more tools used in Light & Dark pediatric sessions, check out The 5 E’s: What to Expect In Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture.

Come try out cupping!
12 acupuncture needles sticking out of one hypodermic needle, showing that there's nothing to be scared of. Acupuncture needles are tiny.

Scared of Needles but Curious About Acupuncture? No problem!!

Are you scared of needles?  Well, that makes sense.

Bare with me and we’ll make the discussion of sharp, pointy objects brief.

Whatcha Scared Of?

Western hypodermic needles are built to shoot substances into the body or extract substances from the body.  To do this, they must be hollow.  Hollow needles take up a lot of surface area on your body, and when they pierce the skin, they tend to hurt.  I have been needling myself and my patients for years, and I am still nervous when I see a big, honkin hypodermic needle coming towards my arm!

Acupuncture needles, on the other hand, are filiform, which means that they are not hollow.  They also have a much smaller circumference and take up a lot less surface area.  In fact, you can stick between 12-16 acupuncture needles inside one Western medicine needle, as seen in the picture above.  Acupuncture needles, often referred to as “pins,” feel nothing like a hypodermic needle.  I often needle a person for the first time and then hear them say, “That was it??”  Yep! That’s it.  It’s really not too bad.

It makes sense.  Of course you are scared of needles.  From a young age, we have become familiar with our doctors and nurses sticking us with very painful needles for shots and blood draws.  But acupuncture needles don’t feel like hypodermic (Western) needles at all.  They’re much less painful, so maybe you could give it a try!

Or maybe not.

Don’t worry.  I am not here to convert you.  Whatever the reason, needle phobia is real.  If you’re one of the 10% of people who suffer from trypanophobia, i.e. a fear of needles and injections, and you’re not going to be convinced to try acupuncture, fear not – there are other options for you!

Non-Needle Treatments

At Light & Dark Acupuncture, we offer Non-Needle treatments to any adult who requests a gentle, non-invasive treatment.  Non-Needle treatments still use the time-tested East Asian techniques taught in acupuncture school.  They simply use the ones that do not involve needles.  These techniques are built to help blood flow smoothly, to help boost the immune system’s response and relax the nervous system.  They help improve muscles, tissues and organ function, and they ease turbulent flow through the mind and spirit.

Here are a few of the techniques called upon in a Non-Needle Treatment:

  1. Herbal Formulas: Acupuncturists use herbal medicine to craft a formula that will treat both your current symptoms and the underlying cause of those symptoms.  Patients can drink these formulas in the form of a tea.  From old folk remedies to modern, researched synergistic herbal constituents, herbal formulas have been used for decades for healing a myriad of disorders, illnesses and injuries.  Patients are frequently astounded by the power of an herbal formula.
  2. Cupping: Chinese Medicine practitioners use cupping to release muscle stiffness, improve blood flow through areas of tension, and open the pores.  This can be useful for tight, sore muscles, the beginning stages of a cold and deep congestion in the lungs.  Are you wondering if this is the technique that left round marks all over the 2016 Olympians?  It sure is! Does it hurt? Nope – cupping feels more like a strong massage and is not meant to be painful.  Most people who try it fall immediately in love with it.  If you want to know a little more about it, you can read my blog on cupping and watch the video mentioned at the end of the blog.
  3. Shonishin: While Shonishin is typically used on children, I have found it to be effective on teenagers and adults as well.  This is a non-invasive, no-needle technique that uses tapping and brushing movements to stimulate acupuncture points.  Your body creates an immune response to the technique which sets off a cascade of events that lead to healing.  Shonishin is incredibly relaxing. It’s wonderful for adults who have been doing a little too much adulting, and it can be beneficial in several disorders such as common cold, migraines, joint aches, etc.  I’ve written some information about Shonishin on my Pediatrics webpage, if you’d like to learn more about it.
  4. “Acupressure” or Tuina & Shiatsu: These are two versions of therapeutic massage.  Tuina is a Chinese therapeutic massage that is often referred to as “acupressure”.  Specific points are chosen per TCM theory and pressure is applied to these points using various massage techniques.  Shiatsu is of Japanese origin and it uses a similar but slightly different approach to create a therapeutic response.  Both techniques can be used for muscle, tendon and bone aches, pains and tensions, as well as for internal issues such as gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety and fatigue.  Do you wonder if tuina and shiatsu may be effective for your health concerns? Here is the link to a video demonstrating tuina – at about 1 minute into it, you can begin to see several tuina techniques. You can also call me anytime and ask.    I’m happy to answer your questions!
  5. Moxabustion: Also known as “Moxa.” Moxa is an herb that we burn over the top of an acupuncture point.  This herb is a biological wonder.  It warms the acupuncture points to increase blood flow and nourishes the qi and blood to improve energy levels.  It has the perfect consistency to be rolled into a ball, and as it burns it consolidates into a little pile of ash that sticks to itself, so that it does not fall apart.  I often use moxa on individuals who experience significant fatigue because the treatments yield better results with the help of this medicinal friend.
  6. Gua Sha: Gua Sha is an Eastern technique that involves scraping a specific area.  While “scraping” does not sound like it would be a gentle therapy, it feels surprisingly comforting when you are using a “gua sha tool.”  This technique breaks up adhesions and helps the surface capillaries breathe so that fresh blood can move uninhibited through areas of stagnation. I use gua sha when a patient has an old injury that has never quite healed and it is causing secondary and tertiary issues in the body.  Like cupping, the technique leaves marks, which are not the same as bruises.  Gua Sha marks do no go through the same stages of coloration as a normal bruise.  They simply fade away sometime between 3 – 10 days after treatment.

So, if you’re interested in an alternative therapy from a rich tradition of Eastern healing techniques, but you’re scared of being poked (even if you’re told that it doesn’t hurt!), seek out a non-needle treatment!  If you’re not sure if this treatment can help your current condition, call me for a free phone consultation.  I am happy to answer your questions and discuss your health concerns.  If you are not located in Denver, I can help you find a practitioner who will provide a non-needle treatment in your area.

Book an appointment online today!

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